Burning Obligations

It has been a hot and dry early autumn.  Too many of the trees have gone right from green to brown, putting expectations of a brilliant fall in wait-and-see mode. Lawns and sidewalks are littered in a shifting sheet of papery detritus. A shuffled crunching accompanies each step of my evening walk through the neighborhood.  Here and there, though, there is fire peeking through the scuffle of dead leaves, and some of the trees seem to be fighting to achieve glory.

Fire in my fingers!

Last night was one of those that signal the shift in the year; unseasonably hot for October, but with a grace of wind that propelled the day into a cloud-less evening. As night fell and the daytime clamor of the neighborhood dropped away, the wind in the trees became the dominant sound-scape, even drowning out cricket-song.

It was a perfect night to sleep with the windows open – or so I thought. The wind picked up after dark and the sky-scraping sway of the trees filled the night.  At first it sounded like the crash of the sea against a pebbled shore.  But rather than soothing, the waves of sound just agitated the night – more like the rasping schuss of a stiff broom on a stone walk, or the scraping of a crust of ice off a windshield. The volume just intensified as the night wore on – or maybe my sleeplessness just made it seem so.

I’m writing this at 2:30 am, unable to sleep with the noise of the wind in the trees and the dry leaves clawing at the screens to get in, but reluctant to close up the house against the sound.


In February last year, I wrote another post about wind. http://kathleencerveny.com/unseen-forces/ That post talked about the force of change in my life soon after retirement.  Now, two years later, I am again facing the need to make change.

Two years ago, in a somewhat desperate effort to fill the supposed empty time ahead, to feel useful and engaged with something meaningful, and – truth be told – to avoid facing the discipline it would take to become a serious writer, I said ‘yes’ to too many things.  I am now busier than I was when working full time. It’s not that I have too much to do. I will always choose to be busy.  It’s that I have too many different things to do. It’s like having five jobs.  No, it IS having five jobs, four of which are purely volunteer. 

So, what to do?  My separate obligations are like the recent spate of hurricanes – individual tempests, blowing me left and right, creating a storm of sleeplessness and worry that I will drop the ball somewhere. The details and tasks are piling up like the growing blanket of leaves on my lawn.


Well, it is the turn of the season – always a chance to make change. Somewhere I have to find a leaf rake – and a match.

Unseen Forces


A few weeks ago the sudden rise in temperature brought March-like weather to the neighborhood. One evening the wind kicked up and grabbed the house and yard by the throat and shook it all night like a dog with a rag toy. My backyard neighbor’s security light shone through my bedroom window, throwing images of thrashing trees across the ceiling — an animated shadow puppet show. And somewhere in the house a piece of old metal weather stripping buzzed intermittently like a hive of angry bees. Not much sleep that night.

When I got up in the still dark morning, I saw that the burlap I’d so carefully wrapped and sewed around the flame-shaped fingers of the young Arborvitae planted last fall (so the deer wouldn’t get at them over the winter) had been pulled off and flung across the yard like Gypsy Rose Lee removing her elbow-length satin gloves. A heavy, tarped, wicker armchair had been slapped off the porch as well.  It now lay upside down on my neighbor’s front walk, tarp flapping like a luffed sail. I must have made quite a comic sight in my rubber boots and coat pulled over my ‘jammies’ and robe, wrestling with the chair and tarp — or rather, wrestling with the wind still wrestling with the chair and tarp. I was grateful for the semi-darkness.

Mostly, weather descends on us; rain, snow, even the sun shining down or the pressing weight of a heavy clouded sky.  But there’s something distinctly different about a wind storm. When there’s precipitation, the wind is just one part of the action and the effects we feel are more from those other elements than from the wind alone. Wind though, be it a soft breeze or a lashing gale, moves more horizontally through the world — and us — pushed by forces science has explained and our brain can comprehend, but which our senses still feel as mysterious.

windThere are lots of unseen forces blowing through our lives, pushing us one way and another almost without our noticing. It’s hard to pay attention to them all; even harder to try to master some of those we may be aware of. Like the expectations of others. Or, more challenging, what we think or feel are the expectations we have for ourselves. (The morning I wrote this, LinkedIn sent me a query; “Kathleen: what are your career resolutions?”)

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations (and resolutions, truth be told) now that I am retired and do not have to respond to the expectations of a job. I have found it quite daunting to imagine the next 10 or 20 years with no one to answer to for how I invest my time and energy but me. What are my expectations?

Perhaps the bigger question though, is; do I have that mysterious, unseen force within — of will or commitment or fortitude — that will push me toward meeting whatever expectations I set for myself over the time remaining? Or will I end up buffeted toward an indeterminate end by indulgence, capricious fancies, or other external forces?

Like the weather, life descends on us regardless of our awareness. Finding the balance, the equilibrium between moving flexibly with what the winds of circumstance present, and still feeding the force of personal convictions and commitments within, is the challenge of mastering the dance ahead. The invisibility of the force that made my yard and house come alive last week is a reminder that there is power in what is unseen and what can blow us off course if left un-considered, un-wrestled-with. pat attentionA reminder to Pay Attention!


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